“Messy” proposal for expanding UK mobile coverage is unworkable, says Vodafone

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The proposal from the UK government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to boost mobile coverage across the country has been criticised as challenging, complex and damaging to the industry. 

The department launched a consultation this morning to eliminate blind spots in mobile coverage on the country’s four major operator networks. It claimed affected a fifth of the UK's population were affected.

The consultation proposes a number of possible solutions including the promotion of dual-SIM handsets, infrastructure sharing and mobile roaming.

However, Vodafone hit back at the DCMS proposal, claiming implementing national roaming would ultimately result in a higher rate of dropped calls and “significantly worse” coverage and call quality.

The operator commented: “As Vodafone and the other UK mobile operators have told the Government directly on a number of occasions, national roaming will not provide the people of the UK with better quality voice and mobile internet coverage.

“We and the other operators have already explained to the Government that national roaming across the UK is fundamentally different to international roaming. It would be technically far more complex, slow to implement and would cause serious problems with network resilience. 

“National roaming would also be extremely challenging from a legal and regulatory perspective as UK mobile operators have paid the Government hundreds of millions of pounds for spectrum licences on the basis of existing regulation founded on the principle of competing networks."

The spokesperson added the UK's telecom industry has submitted a number of alternative proposals to ministers. These include further site sharing by operators. O2 and Vodafone share network infrastructure, as do Three and EE.

She added: “They would also require the Government to deliver improvements to a number of policy areas - particularly planning regulation - which are the biggest barriers to improved rural coverage, accounting for lengthy delays when operators seek to install or upgrade mobile infrastructure.”

Analyst firm Ovum called the proposal “messy”, suggesting that the costs and complexities involved with deploying national roaming would ultimately be better spent adopting new mobile spectrum as proposed on numerous occasions by Ofcom and others in the mobile industry.

Ovum’s Matthew Howett also said while the solution would help improve coverage of 2G voice services, it would not address the issue of poor data coverage and therefore “ought to be abandoned”.

He commented: “What needs to happen over the next few weeks is collectively for the mobile operators to work with government to come up with an agreeable fix that addresses not only poor voice coverage, but also data too. Any solution must also acknowledge the fact that things are heading in the right direction. Mobile spectrum auctioned last year at 800MHz is particularly well suited to covering large and more rural areas and operators are only just starting to make use of these airwaves. 

“The eventual solution must work to incentivise operators to continue to invest in rolling out networks, which is already happening at a far quicker pace that anticipated just a few years ago. The most obvious thing for the government to do would be to make it easier for operators to put up masts quickly and in the most cost effective way.”

The consultation will end on 26 November.​

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